McMaster University researchers discovered the bacteria in an underground cave isolated for more than four million years.
“It changes everything we knew about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance,” says Hazel Barton, associate professor of biology at the University of Akron, who teamed with Gerry Wright, scientific director of McMaster’s Institute for Infectious Disease Research, on the study.
“We think antibiotic resistance has appeared because we use antibiotics in the clinic,” said Barton. “But if you go to a site where the bacteria haven’t been exposed to any antibiotics, they turn out to be resistant to almost every drug we use in the clinic. That suggests resistance is not something that has emerged in the 20th century but something that has been hard-wired into bacteria for millions and potentially longer years.”
The cave is a starved environment, forcing bacteria to constantly fight each other and resist attacks.
“Antibiotics are chemical weapons between the bacteria,” she explains. “One organism might be scavenging a nutrient and another organism wants it, so it makes an antibiotic to kill that organism and take its nutrients. Resistance comes about to resist that chemical attack and survive.”
That sound you just heard was my mind exploding.